The Couch Potato’s Guide to the 2018 World Chess Championship

On Friday November 9, Magnus Carlsen begins his title defense against Fabiano Caruana in the English capital London; a match where the victor will receive about $700,000, 50% more than the loser. The world number one and two are scheduled to play 12 classical games, with faster and faster tiebreak games should the score reach 6-6.

With Caruana, 26, having a chance to become the first undisputed US World Champion since Bobby Fischer’s reign ended in 1975, interest in the match is high and there is reason to believe that the online audience for the London match will be a record high. This article is a guide to a chess fan’s best options if they are planning to watch the title match from home.

Carlsen, 27, and Caruana will face off at The College in Holborn – a venue made famous for being the location of singer Jarvis Cocker’s meeting with (and brush-off from) the future wife of Greece’s Finance Minister, subsequently referenced in the second line of a ditty regarded by some as the greatest ever Britpop song.

Carlsen and Caruana are far from common people, with both fame and fortune earned from their exceptional chessplaying talents. Both have teams of assistants coming to London to help them – though Carlsen seems to have underestimated the vast improvement in British culinary standards in recent years, as he has brought his own chef. (The past poor reputation of eateries in England was not entirely undeserved; at a British Championship many moons ago I ordered a curry in an Indian restaurant and was asked if I would like chips or rice with it.)

The Norwegian and the American enter the match with almost identical FIDE ratings, although all betting agencies regard Carlsen as a favourite, some offering quite generous odds against Caruana winning. (Carlsen’s 10-5 record of wins in classical games  may be the primary reason for this.)

The players’ peers are not so sure of a Carlsen triumph, with the two previous World Champions, Viswanathan Anand and Vladimir Kramnik, regarding the contest as line ball.

It is true that most of the pressure will be on Caruana, who has never played a title match – or a match of any significant length – before. Caruana also will be disadvantaged should the match go to fast tiebreakers (although Caruana has certainly put some work in to improve his rapid play), and Caruana also has to cope with being guilt-tripped by Carlsen’s sister Ellen who claimed that it was quite possible Carlsen would retire if he lost the world title. Being responsible for Carlsen’s departure from tournament chess would be a heavy weight on anyone’s conscience – unless of course that anyone was planning on dominating Carlsen-style for a lengthy period!

In any case Caruana has been under pressure throughout 2018 and, after a poor start to the year, has coped brilliantly; his tense, last round win over Wesley So in Norway in June being a prime example.

Carlsen, on the other hand, has been World Champion for five years and world number one for almost all of the past nine years. He has  won every major title of his era bar the World Cup and has little to prove, unless he seeks to be the undisputed GOAT.

That potential status is why one veteran Grandmaster said that he could not conceive of Carlsen losing, given that being number one is part of Carlsen’s identity, in the same way it was with Kasparov.

All predictions are that the Carlsen-Caruana match will be a treat for the spectators, given Caruana’s willingness to take positional risks if deep calculation backs up his decision; risks that have led to intermittent success against Carlsen in the past.

Should Caruana play as sharply as expected then spectators may see  a repeat of the multiple wins for Black in the 2008 Anand-Kramnik title match – though it should be remembered that that match was a one-sided massacre.

In any case there should be no doubt that online spectators will get their money’s worth – particularly if they choose one of the free broadcast options.

Before the Match

There is a surfeit of match preview information online but this year Chess.com has gone all-in, covering every conceivable angle: from articles ranking previous world title matches to blogs about Carlsen’s breakout tournament in Russia a decade and a half ago, to videos showing the two contenders’ previous decisive games against each other, and much in between.

Chess24 offers previews with statistics and videos while Chess Life Online has looked at the off-board exploits of Carlsen and Caruana as well as the following just released comic video on Philly’s predictions on the match, which refers back to a similar video from 2013. 

Macedonian GM Alex Colovic, whose blog will be one to keep an eye out for during the match, has also taken a look at the likely course of the openings during the match.

Mark Weeks’ long-running World Championship site and blog cover both history and less well known World Championship news.

Perhaps the best way to get to know the players is to watch them speaking. Carlsen has many interviews online, but one the most interesting was at a health conference in Germany in 2017.

Caruana, until March not a sought-after public figure, has given interviews mostly to chess media, often related to a tournament or games. (An exception is a recent profile in the New York Times.) Caruana did reveal a little of his match mindset during his press conference in Berlin immediately after he qualified to meet Carlsen. If you want to see Caruana at his least focused, a 2012 interview from the Reggio Emilia tournament is hard to beat.

The first encounter between Carlsen and Caruana in Wijk aan Zee 2010, Photo Cathy Rogers

Games begin at 10am East Coast time, so a healthy English morning tea will be needed to keep your concentration at peak levels. The Cream Tea is so popular in England that both Devon and Cornwall claim ownership.

To make yourself an English Cream Tea takes about 30 minutes and all you will need are self-raising flour, salt, butter, milk, jam, whipped cream and some English Breakfast tea, plus an oven, an oven tray, a bowl, a rolling pin, a fine mesh strainer, and a flat board.

First turn your oven on high, say 48 degrees F.

Pour half a pound of flour plus a pinch of salt through the strainer and into the bowl and mix a spoonful of butter in with your fingers. Then add a quarter pint of milk and mix in.

Sprinkle some flour on the board and put the mixture on it.

Massage the dough for 30 seconds until it is lump-free and then pull out the rolling pin and roll it into the shape of a small loaf of bread, one inch high. Cut into large squares and place them on the tray (greased with butter). Dab a little milk on the top of each square and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven and take one of the squares, which should have grown to become genuine English ‘scones’ by now, and cut it in half horizontally. On each inside surface add a thick layer of jam and an even thicker layer of cream. Serve with strong English Breakfast tea plus milk.

One Cream Tea every ten moves should be sufficient to keep the World Championship hungries away – and substituting coffee for tea is also permitted provided you do not advertise the fact on social media.

Fabiano Caruana at the 2016 U.S. Championships at the Saint Louis Chess Club which will be broadcasting coverage of the match at uschesschamps.com, Photo Spectrum Studios 

During the Games

Even if you live in London and wish to watch the games live at The College, you will need deep pockets. Prices vary by the round and the very cheapest tickets (for general admission to rounds 3 to 5) are $70. Game 1 costs more than double that amount, while VIP section tickets are $550 and up (and up) for a single day. (In New York 2016, a mere $3,000 bought a VIP pass for all games.) The VIP pass does include free alcohol but, extraordinarily, no Cream Tea.

Mind you, London is an expensive city, as Carlsen no doubt found out when he found himself at the Rosewood Hotel in Holborn where one may choose to pay $4,000+ a night for a humble suite.

So consider yourself lucky to be a couch potato sitting at home with multiple options to watch the game.

Grandmaster Judit Polgar at the 2016 World Chess Championships in New York City

The organizers Agon/World Chess are asking a one-off $20 fee to watch the official video stream for the entire match, including multiple cameras and Agon’s best commentator Judit Polgar on the English language stream. (Agon will also offer commentary in Russian.) The show will be hosted by Anna Rudolf.

The design of World Chess’s new viewing interface seems to be paying homage to Chess24 and will be a clear improvement on previous events, with all moves visible, play-through of variations possible and the posting of comments enabled. The move notation will also be supplemented by emojis  – such as turtles and bombs, naturally.

The moves will also be accessible live on ChessBase, an official partner of the match, but will only be available to ChessBase Premium members, so again payment will be necessary – 5 Euros for a month’s access. However the complete World Chess show will be available to ChessBase members for a 25% discount off Agon’s regular $20 price.

 

Of course it would not be an Agon championship without an attempt to restrict competition to the official broadcast – World Chess argue that this is key to the financial viability of top level chess.

At the Candidates tournament in March Agon granted sites permission to provide their own commentary with a five minute transmission delay but this time Agon are requiring a half hour delay. The Agon Use of Chess Moves policy included threats of not only legal action but also applying the sanctions in the world body FIDE’s Moves Broadcasting Policy for any site that ignores their wishes. It should be noted that the second threat would ring less hollow if FIDE actually had a Moves Broadcasting Policy, rather than a draft policy published in May for comment and amendment.

Since Agon has lost every legal case trying to enforce their claimed right to exclusivity over the live moves, it is likely that most chess sites wishing to offer commentary on the title match – and there are many – are going to ignore Agon’s “as media friendly as it can be” policy.

Chess24, the leader in chess commentary – as well as in defending Agon’s legal cases –  will cover the match live in three languages, with the English language team anchored by the great Peter Svidler. Svidler will be joined by Alexander Grischuk for an hour or two each game while also having a co-host in Hamburg: Sopiko Guramashvili for the first 8 games followed by Guramashvili’s husband Anish Giri (competing in China at the moment) for the final games.

Chess24’s Spanish broadcast will feature GM Pepe Cuenca, GM David Anton and IM David Martinez, while their German viewers will hear another family team, WGM Melanie Lubbe and IM Nikolas Lubbe.

Chess.com has decided the enter the World Championship commentary arena in a big way, supporting broadcasts in as many as seven languages.

The Chess.com English language show will be hosted by GM Robert Hess with IM Danny Rensch, and, with reporters on site, they promise plenty of bells and whistles including GM guests. Add Spanish (FM Luis Siles and GM Ruslan Ponomariov) plus Russian (GM  Ian Nepomniachtchi), Portugeuse (GM Krikor Mekhitarian), and Polish (FM Kacper Polok), plus possible Italian and Turkish channels, and Chess.com will provide more listening options than any other broadcaster, as well as posting clips, interviews and other content in multiple languages on their social media pages.

Fabiano Caruana at Burning Boards in 2014 in Saint Louis, where he now lives, Photo Cathy Rogers

The Saint Louis Chess Club plans to start their ‘Today in Chess’ show – featuring the traditional Seirawan/Shahade/Ashley team – only after the game has been going for two hours but as a bonus will cover the Women’s KO World Championship in Khanty Mansiysk as well as the London match, with plans for inside news from both England and Siberia.

Garry Kasparov will make a guest appearance the first a little after 3 hours of play of Game 1 in London. Update: Today in Chess announced after two rounds that they’d start at 10 AM ET, to also coincide with the start of the games.

Other special guests will include Vladimir Kramnik, Bruce Pandolfini and Fred Waitzkin. All the shows will also be on demand on the Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube channel. 

Two supercomputers will be at work publicly analysing the games. Norway’s Sesse (using Stockfish) has long been the best computer for following Carlsen’s games.

However Chessdom has teamed up with TCEC to provide analysis by Leela Chess Zero (Lc0), the neural network which attempted to replicate the methods of the chess computer that shook the world in 2017, Alpha Zero.

Though Sesse is more viewer-friendly, showing the assessment of every possible guess by the viewer, Lc0 appears to have the edge in hardware and may be that little bit closer to chess ‘truth’.

With a VPN, it should be possible to watch video of the games via the Norwegian television station NRK. Norwegian chess broadcasts are the most professional in the world and, while the predominant language in the commentary will of course be in Norwegian, even with the sound turned down the screen will show a lot. Norwegian newspaper VG should also have excellent reports viewable with an online translator.

To discuss the games in progress social media has become the place to go for kibitzers, though some of the broadcasters, including the official site, also allow a forum for chat alongside the moves.

The official Twitter hashtag for the match is #carlsencaruana2018.

Though Caruana along with Carlsen and his seconds such as Nielsen and Fressinet have active Twitter accounts, don’t expect them to be active while the match is on. Look out for the chess journalists’ accounts, offering links to articles by both chess and mainstream media that might otherwise be missed. One to watch will be @TarjeiJS with all the news from the Norwegian point of view, while @MehreenNMalik has close links to the Caruana camp.

IM Eric Rosen will be taking over our US Chess Twitter account during the match and will also be doing some bonus coverage on our YouTube and instagram accounts. 

After the Games

When the games finish, the two players will be taken to a short press conference, where press and VIP ticket holders can ask questions. The press conference can be seen on the official site or replayed a short time later on a site such as Youtube.

You can download the game as soon as it finishes from Mark Crowther’s The Week in Chess – the source for games from just about every important tournament played around the world.

Chess.com is usually fast and authoritative with their daily print reports, though ChessBase is usually not far behind.

Video recaps of that day’s game will be everywhere, many by Grandmasters. Whether you choose Daniel King (PowerplayChess), Svidler (Chess24), Yannick Pelletier (ChessBase), Seirawan (Chess.com), YouTube favourite Agadmator, or the recaps in multiple languages on Chess.com channels, there is no shortage of options.

Chess.com are also planning extensive rest day coverage on Chess.com/tv, with full shows beginning at 1pm AEST. (Chess.com will also add a rest day show in an additional language, French.)

Every major chess site will have text analysis, often almost immediately after the game finishes. Here ChessBase is likely to be the pacesetter, signing up players such as Anand, So, Gelfand, Adams, Navara, Duda, and Shankland to provide daily analysis.

Slightly slower annotators rarely generate many hits but have the advantage of relying not only on computer assessments but can incorporate and assess ideas from spectators (particularly GM spectators) from around the world. In a world of supercomputer kibitzers, these independent opinions are fewer but The Chess Mind is usually worth checking out (though more recently the best analysis was reserved for subscribers).

You now have ahead of you three weeks of watching the games, listening to the multiple commentary streams, enjoying the post-game shows, eating dozens of Cream Teas, and ignoring study and work. Alternately, if you wish to keep your job you could follow the motto ‘Everything in moderation’ – Cream Teas excepted.

Fabiano Caruana in Sao Paulo, 2012.

2018 World Championship Match Schedule

Game 1 Friday     November 9 (All games at 10am AEST)

Game 2 Saturday   November 10

Game 3 Monday     November 12

Game 4 Tuesday    November 13

Game 5 Thursday   November 15

Game 6 Friday     November 16

Game 7 Sunday     November 18

Game 8 Monday     November 19

Game 9 Wednesday  November 21

Game 10 Thursday  November 22

Game 11 Saturday  November 24

Game 12 Monday    November 26

Playoffs (if needed) Wednesday November 28

**

Ian Rogers will report on the World Championship match for Chess Life Online. Bookmark uschess.org/clo for easiest access. 

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